Shooting from the lip/Feb. 14th edition
Looking back at a weekend of televised sports ...
The worst part about this time of year in sports isn't that football is over and baseball has yet to begin. It's that the two best broadcasts of the week -- NBC's hockey coverage and ABC's early-game NBA Sunday coverage -- are on at the same time, forcing viewers to pick one or flip between the two.
The production and direction of the two are first rate, but it's the announcers who set them above all else on television in February and March. NBC's hockey coverage is anchored by the incomparable Mike Emrick with game analysts Ed Olczyk and Pierre McGuire and studio analyst Mike Milbury. Meanwhile, ABC's first game of Sunday doubleheaders is usually called by Mike Breen, Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy, who just might be the best analyst in any sport on television. What makes Van Gundy so entertaining is he says whatever is on his mind. He realizes, unlike many other analysts, that you can't talk X's and O's for two solid hours. You can't break down the technical aspect of every single possession, pass and shot without sounding as if you're running a coach's clinic. Fans want strategy, but they also want to be entertained, too. They want humor. They want opinion. They want an analyst who makes them think. And Van Gundy does all of those things.
Van Gundy's finest moment Sunday came when Boston's Kevin Garnett set a hard screen on Miami's Mike Miller, then the Heat's Dwyane Wade clobbered Garnett while trying to box him out. Wade was called for a flagrant foul. Van Gundy gave it straight, saying Garnett set a good, hard pick and that Wade was simply boxing out. "Come on!'' Van Gundy said, sounding like someone watching the game at home. "That's a bad call. That's not a flagrant foul. Okay, it's a foul, but it's not a flagrant foul.''
Van Gundy never protects the officials, players or coaches. If they do something well, he says so. If they make a mistake, he says that, too. In other words, he does his job as it's defined.
Olczyk is hockey's version of Van Gundy. After a bad penalty call during Sunday's Red Wings-Bruins game, Olczyk said, "If you're not sure (about a call), put the whistle in your pocket!''
Meanwhile, NBC's hockey intermissions have become can't-miss viewing for fans with the very opinionated Milbury and McGuire. On Sunday, they took on the Islanders-Penguins debacle of Friday night that featured 346 penalty minutes, 10 ejections, 15 fighting majors and 20 misconducts. Both were highly critical, particularly of the Islanders, but Milbury had the guts to say this: "We have fighting in this game, not because of the logical hogwash that says players need to have it to police the game. That's just hogwash. We have it because we like it. … We like the violent part of it whether we admit it or not. We allow it to a certain point. When it goes past that certain point, we all cringe and say, 'Oh, my God. We've got to do something about it.' ''
Van Gundy, Milbury, the play-by-play announcers, the intermissions, it's all outstanding. The only disappointing part of NBC's NHL or ABC's NBA broadcasts is that both were on at the same time.
Most interesting interview
ESPN provided outstanding coverage during Friday night's Jazz-Suns game of Jerry Sloan resigning Thursday as Jazz coach. The game was merely the backdrop to the major story of Sloan’s resignation. The MVP of the night was sideline reporter Heather Cox, who produced insightful interviews throughout the game. The highlight came when she talked with former Jazz great Karl Malone for nearly five minutes while the game was being played. She even got Malone to admit that he is interested in being an NBA head coach and, more specifically, the head coach of the Jazz. Malone said he had approached the Jazz but never heard back from the team he played for from 1985 to 2003. Generally speaking, sideline reporters often provide little to a broadcast, but when they hustle and do their job correctly -- as Cox did Friday night -- you understand their value.
Favorite lines of the weekend
First, this gem from ESPN NBA announcer Dan Shulman during Friday night's Jazz-Suns game: "Karl Malone still looks like he could arm-wrestle a grizzly bear and win.''
Then, this one from NBC NHL announcer Mike Emrick, talking about the Red Wings putting pressure on Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas: "They are getting in close enough to tell his favorite flavor of bubble gum.''
Best college analyst of the weekend
ESPN basketball analyst Doris Burke is not only one of the hardest-working analysts in basketball, she's one of the best. As far as the hard work goes, she called a men's college game Saturday in Louisville and an NBA game Sunday night at Golden State and is scheduled to call a women's college game at Baylor tonight. Despite the workload, her analysis is always spot-on and refreshingly candid. Take Saturday's Syracuse-Louisville game. Late in the contest, one official called a shooting foul while another called the foul on the floor. The officials huddled and decided it was a shooting foul, meaning the Louisville player would get two shots instead of a 1-and-1. After the player hit the first shot, announcer Dave Pasch said what likely many of us at home were thinking, that the call didn’t matter because the player hit the first shot anyway.
But Burke disagreed and said, "It's such a stress reliever to know you have two (shots), so of course it matters.''
That's just one example of the outstanding analysis she provides each and every game she calls.
Question of the day
How come every time we see Kentucky coach John Calipari, he's screaming, yelling, jumping up and down and practically crying because his team messed something up? Maybe if he didn't recruit so many one-and-done players and had a few more seniors on his team, they wouldn't goof up so often and he wouldn't lose his mind every game.
These will make you scratch your head:
1. Tennessee trails Florida by one with time running out Saturday. What do you do: Set up a picket fence and get an open two-point shot or have someone drive to the hoop for layup or, at least, draw a foul? Answer: Uh, take a long-distance 3-pointer?
2. The Heat trailed the Celtics and needed a three to tie with time running out Sunday. Who takes the shot: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh? Answer: Uh, Mike Miller?
No wonder both teams lost.
Three things that popped into my head
1. Wisconsin's victory in football over then-No. 1 Ohio State last season had way more impact than Wisconsin's win over No. 1 Ohio State in basketball Saturday because the football loss ruined Ohio State's season, while the basketball loss was a mere hiccup for the Buckeyes. What's the point? College football has the best regular season in sports because there is no playoff, making every single regular-season game count.
2. You often can't read too much into the NBA regular season, but the Heat being 0-3 against the Celtics this season says something, doesn't it?
3. This week, we get to say four of the greatest words in sports: pitchers and catchers report.